The clock says 8:16 again. While I am sure it is largely coincidence or my imagination, that number is always illuminated regardless of where I am… at home, work, or in my car. 8:16 taunts me, causes my stomach to lurch and my heart to pound because this number represents my birthday: August 16th.
I am struggling with this particular birthday more than any previous year because it has arrived too quickly. I expected to be in a much different place at 40 years of age.
I know that ultimately I can choose to perceive this milestone as a blessing. I can celebrate with my children and acknowledge all that I have accomplished in four decades of life. Alternatively, I can choose to dread it, ignore the day entirely, and even remove the date from my Facebook page insuring only my mom and a childhood friend who has never forgotten my birthday will call. I think my head is actually somewhere in between….the gray area.
I took a painting class several years ago with a teacher who repeatedly told us to find the color in white, a perplexing and frustrating task for me. As I sat staring at a still life that included a bowl of fruit and a white ceramic pitcher I concentrated, I focused, yet all I could see was fruit and a white pitcher. I listened to him describe the colors he perceived, I watched others turn their blank canvas into unique interpretations of the arrangement, with complex mixtures of color, yet all I saw was a white pitcher. How does one paint a white object on a white canvas? Try as I might, the colors continued to elude me.
Then one day as I was walking out to my car I noticed the clouds overhead and something within snapped. I anxiously returned to the pitcher and for the first time I saw the shadows and shading, followed by various hues… darker ones at first, like purple, then blues and greens, and finally bursts of yellow.
For much of my life I have seen everything as black and white. People are good or bad. Every question has an answer and every problem has one solution like a mathematical equation. It is important to always follow the rules, stick to a plan, and do as you are expected.
At 40, divorced, and mom to three, I see many alternatives now and I no longer want to do just what is expected. Yes, the number bothers me. My career has been detoured. My family–my reason for breathing–is unlike what I had pictured now that my divorce is finalized. But with each day I am trying to avoid the grays, seeking colors where there once were none. My canvas does not look like I imagined it would, but I also never thought it would be so vibrant.
In the last decade alone: I have gotten married; cried at the Arch of Titus in Rome; fell in love with yoga; found a great job doing what I love; became an advocate for daycare, having once been utterly opposed; learned to eat fish; overcome my fear of public speaking; lost my remaining grandparents; beat infertility; traveled throughout New England; witnessed my first gay pride parade; lost a baby; had twins; discovered the thrill of acting; returned to Israel, though only briefly; lost a great job; recognized the need for marriage equality; made good friends and lost a few too; became a homeowner; attended my first al-anon meeting; found the perfect job for the here and now; huddled with our children during a superstorm; and gave birth to our last baby.
And several weeks ago, I painted my toenails bright blue to commemorate the end of my marriage. So as I approach 8:16 with humility and trepidation, I pray that I am granted many more years to splatter paint on this whimsical work-in-progress that is my life, all the while continuing to discover colors where I never thought I would find them.